• Published 1st Nov 2014
  • 15,421 Views, 1,499 Comments

A New Sun Rises - CommissarAJ



Sunset Shimmer has never needed anyone or anything - she had her magic, she had her ambition, and she had intellect. Others just stood in her way or held her down. So what do you do when your plans for world domination fall through?

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Act I-II

Very rarely was a student thankful to be dragged off to the principal’s office. While I had no doubt that Celestia would be displeased to hear about the latest act of property damage tied to my name, I nonetheless felt infinitely more comfortable now that I didn’t have an audience scrutinizing my every move. With the exception being the occasional wandering student, who in passing would give a stink-eye, a barely-concealed chuckle, an obscene hand gesture, or any combination of the three.

As I waited patiently just outside the door, leaning against the wall with my books kept out of easy reach as to avoid repeat incidences, the confrontation with Trixie kept playing over in my mind. Needless to say, I regretted my response, and not just because I missed. Celestia took me back with the understanding that I was going to be a better person, a nicer person. An explosive temper was not how I was going to win the hearts and minds of anyone, especially my own. I knew coming back would mean dealing with Trixie at some point, and I knew that resorting to violence wouldn’t fix anything, but I still got angry and I still got violent. How could I convince others that I could change if I wasn’t certain of it myself?

I couldn’t make out most of the words, but judging by the volume of Luna’s half of it, she was none too happy about things. The Vice Principal had always been a wild card for me at the school. Though the principal and princess had their differences, the insight I gained spending years with Princess Celestia helped in my dealings with this world’s version. But Luna was a mystery to me. She kept an arm’s length when it came to dealing with students, and even when she brought me in, there was little more than a ‘follow me’ from her. In the past, I was never sure if she had suspicions as to my devious nature, or if she was naturally suspicious of everybody. At least I didn’t need to wonder any longer.

Whatever Celestia and Luna were talking about, they weren’t in a rush to finish it. More than half an hour had passed and I had yet to see either of them emerge from their office. As curiosity began to take hold of me, I slowly edged closer to the door. After a quick glance down the halls to ensure I was alone, I turned the handle and waited to see if there was a pause in the conversation. There was none, which meant they probably didn’t hear me so far. Ever so carefully, I pushed the door open so I could eavesdrop on their discussion. It was my future, after all, so I figured I should be privy to the deliberations. What were they going to do if they disagreed—expel me?

“I think you’re overreacting a bit, Luna,” Celestia said in an obvious attempt to placate her sister.

“No, grabbing her by the feet and kimber tossing her out the nearest window would be considered an overreaction,” Luna shot back. “All I’m suggesting is that we actually do something that resembles discipline.”

“Discipline isn’t always about punishment, and it's definitely not about appealing to mob justice.”

Sounded like Luna wasn’t the only one who felt I should vacate the school premises, preferably out of a large cannon.

“You weren’t the one who spent all morning on the phones dealing with a hundred concerned parents,” Luna exclaimed. “Or better yet, you weren’t there when I had to convince the bloody school board that our front foyer got demolished because of a leaking gas main.”

Luna lied to the school board? Celestia did say that the truth would make her look insane, but at the time I hadn’t realized to what extent she had gone to in order to keep her superiors from taking a closer look. If people did believe the truth, it would’ve put Canterlot High in the middle of a media spectacle, and I shuddered to think what would happen to a girl who could allegedly turn into a demonic entity.

“What would you have proposed telling them? The truth? I imagine once they stopped laughing, they’d demand for both of our resignations,” Celestia continued calmly. If Luna’s heated reaction was a common occurrence, it suddenly explained why the principal wasn’t even fazed by my paltry show of defiance earlier.

There was an audible sigh from Luna, followed by a prolonged silence before she groaned. “I could’ve at least said something that made it clear that Sunset was responsible.”

“So it wasn’t the lying that bothered you, it’s what was in the lie,” Celestia quipped.

“My point is, you’re making a huge mistake. We can’t just sweep it under the rug and pretend like nothing happened. Her kind of behavior belongs in jail!”

Personally, I didn’t think anybody was prepared to pretend like nothing happened. There was a whole school full of students who were more than willing to remind me every day of what a horrid person I’d been. Even if Celestia didn’t want to, mob justice would eventually find its way to me.

“I understand your concerns, Luna, but I have the situation under control. I was hoping you’d be willing to be help me with this.”

“There’s a broken pane of glass that says otherwise,” Luna replied, followed by a heavy thud of what I presumed was her slamming the damaged trophy on the principal’s desk. “The school board’s already scrambling to find a way to pay for the first round of damage caused by Sunset, now I’ve got to send them an invoice for this. How many more things have to be broken before you realize that some students are just trouble? Sooner or later, somebody is going to get hurt, and you’ll be held responsible.”

When I had been transformed into a crazed demon, drunk on Equestrian magic, I came very close to reducing Twilight and her friends into a small but colourful pile of ash. Would Celestia have been willing to give me a reassuring pat on the back and a ‘we all make mistakes’ if there had been a body count involved? The fact that there weren’t any injuries, other than my ego, wasn’t because of a lack of effort on my part. I doubt there were any greeting cards for ‘sorry I tried to vaporize you.’ Perhaps I could get that written on a cake.

Luna brought up a sobering point. Not even ten minutes into my return and I had already made a pane of glass into my first victim. What if Trixie hadn’t been as swift? Regardless of how much I thought her face deserved a refresher course on algebra, handing out concussions wasn’t a step in the right direction. Not to mention, it would’ve led to an even more terrible fate—being forced by the principal to apologize to Trixie. My disdain for Trixie aside, maybe Luna was right, and I was just another incident waiting to happen.

“That’s a risk I’m willing to take, but what I won’t do is abandon this girl,” Celestia said with the same firm principal-tone that she had used on me.

“We don’t know what else she might be hiding. She could still be dangerous. There’s an entire hallway’s worth of students who state that she attacked another student! She doesn’t deserve your leniency.”

What I deserved. That was a topic that had been floating on my mind for the past several minutes. Maybe I was fooling myself into thinking that I could be different. I had already demonstrated how woefully inadequate my patience and impulse control were. The confrontation with Trixie could have been avoided entirely if I had just given in to what she wanted. She wanted to humiliate and lord over me like an usurper, and it wasn’t as though I had anything worth protecting. What dignity I had was still sitting at the bottom of a crater out in the schoolyard, next to chunks of concrete and puddles of muddy water. Even though the value of my name wasn’t worth the ink it’d take to write it down, apparently it was still enough for me to kick up a fuss about. Sooner or later, a confrontation was going to occur and somebody would get hurt, either because of my temper, or because I’m too stupid to realize I was protecting a trash heap that was once my pride.

I had my second chance, and I pitched it through a glass pane. I soon convinced myself that Luna was right, and that leniency was beyond my price range. My presence alone was driving a wedge between two sisters who, from everything I had seen, worked flawlessly side by side. Nobody wanted me at Canterlot High, and while I appreciated Celestia’s vote of confidence in me, she was still just one person in a sea of animosity.

So in what I decided would be my one act of decency at Canterlot High, I grabbed my things and walked out the door. Both Canterlot High and I would be better off without each other.

*******************

Tempting as it may have been to return to my sanctuary of a shoebox, also known as my apartment, I knew that would be among the first places that Principal Celestia would check after realizing I had bailed on her. Though the thought of disappointing her once more did elicit a small pang of guilt, if only because of its reminder of all the other important people in my life that I had let down, I tried not to dwell on it. There were many students at Canterlot High who needed the sort of guidance that she could provide, and her time would be better spent fostering those individuals.

As for myself, I still had enough confidence left to know that I could carve out some semblance of a life in this world. At the very least, in thirty moons, the portal to Equestria would be open and I could crawl back home with my tail firmly tucked between my legs. There may not be anybody waiting for me on the other side, but at least I would be a unicorn again, and I’d have my magic.

Since home, both of this world and the other, was out of the question, I had opted to venture elsewhere into town. I didn’t have any particular destinations in mind as I just needed to put some distance between me and the school. Heading down city sidewalks, passing by scores of people as they went about their lives, felt almost therapeutic. Out here, I appeared to be just like every other teenaged girl, save for an indifference to boy bands and the occasional craving for hayburgers. Sadly, coming to this world meant losing my taste for Equestrian foods along with the magic. There were days where it was hard to decide which I missed more.

Somewhere during my walk, time having long since passed from my interest, I somehow wandered into a coffee shop. Granted, with how many of them have popped up in the city, one could walk five minutes in any direction and find themselves on the front steps of one. I hadn’t slept well for the past few days, so I needed some pick-me-up in order to continue my binge of self-loathing and reflection. Plus, my legs were tired. Yet another thing about life in Equestria I missed was the fact that walking rarely tired me out, and I had four legs back then.

The comforting embrace of a plush leather chair felt like heaven after a long walk. I had parked myself in the far back corner of the shop, away from as many people as I could, and revelled in the comfort and tranquility, the invigorating fragrance of a rich, black coffee relaxing me, if only for the moment. Coffee was the only friend I needed, and she saw me through many long nights where I toiled endlessly at the essays of five different clients. Slowly, I melted into the folds of the seat, sighing on the way down.

Alas, I made the terrible mistake of allowing myself to become happy. With the precision of a heat-seeking missile, the universe homed in on my feelings of contentment and delivered a payload of unpleasantness.

“Wasn’t expecting to see you this far from your usual stomping grounds,” a voice spoke up, snapping me from my coffee-hazed trance.

Standing before me was another teenaged girl, gazing down upon me with hawken eyes and a familiar, cocksure smirk that always drew my attention to the silver ring pierced through her lower lip. Despite the fact that I replied to the unorthodox greeting with my own short-lived smirk, congeniality was not what I felt inside.

“Gilda,” I replied before straightening my posture to something a bit more respectable, “if it isn’t my most charitable of clients.”

Profitable would be a more apt description, but it was easier to keep clients happy if they thought they were getting better rates than the others. Gilda had been a client of mine ever since I started the business. In fact, she was the first client I had when she offered me twenty bucks to finish her math homework after a chance encounter at the local library. Since then, she had been a constant source of income no thanks to her unwillingness to do anything that resembled ‘work’, and the deep pockets she had thanks to family connections. Did I ever feel guilty about using these facets for my own personal profit? Not in the least. As a person, I cared little for Gilda, which made it easier for me to not care about taking so much of her money.

“So what brings you out here anyways? I think this is the first time in a year I’ve seen you without carrying textbooks and piles of paper,” Gilda continued as she dropped into the seat across from me.

Judging by the fact that she wore her favourite bomber jacket overtop a contrasting primp buttoned-shirt, which still had a loosened tie around the collar, I deduced that Gilda had only just got out of school. The high-priced private academy that she went to may have had a dress code, but she ditched the jacket no sooner than she stepped off the school’s property. The dress code wasn’t the only thing she cared little for if the lighter poking out of the inner pocket was anything to go by.

“I just needed to get away from things,” I answered in a half-truth.

As Gilda’s school, Crystal Heart Academy, was half-way across town, I didn’t have to worry about news of the Fall Formal reaching her ears. My proximity to the academy didn’t become apparent until I noticed more students entering the coffee shop, all wearing the same matching blue coat and pants. This must have been a common hang-out for them.

“Well at least you got better taste than the rest of your school—always hanging out at that lame-o Sugarcube Corner,” Gilda said before she took a sip from her own beverage. “Don’t know why you bother going to that school. Between your brains and a good word from my parents, the headmaster at mine would be on his knees begging you to join.”

“True, but then someone might notice that our assignments tend to read very similarly,” I replied with a smirk. To be honest, I had little interest in getting chummy with Gilda, and an alleged fear of our business arrangement being discovered was enough to snuff out that idea every time she brought it up. I suspected she wanted me closer just because it’d make our dealings more convenient for her.

“You okay, Shimmer? You seem kinda quieter than usual,” Gilda asked. The note of concern caught me by surprise since it conveyed a level of empathy I had not noted in her before. “How about I get you something to eat?”

Though I hadn’t eaten since the lunch with Celestia, I wasn’t feeling very hungry. That didn’t stop Gilda from reaching over to a nearby plate and plucking half a sandwich from it—all while under the watch of the fellow academy student who had bought it. I was quick to decline the offer, not just because it had just been pilfered from another student’s plate, but due to the fact it was ham and cheese. Instead of just returning the sandwich to its owner, Gilda just started eating it herself, much to the chagrin of its former owner.

“Hey! I paid for that,” the student finally protested.

“What of it, dweeb?” Gilda snarled in response.

The poor kid visibly recoiled from Gilda. I didn’t know much about her personal reputation at school, but judging by her six-foot build and the fact that the other student looked like he was one sharp inhalation away from soiling himself, I suspected it was one of strength and dominance. Perhaps it was because her behavior was so much like my own past that I felt such guilt and disgust being around her now.

Celestia said I was better than that, but could I really amount to something better than a bully and a brute? As I watched Gilda eating her ill-gotten goods, I realized that if I were to ever change, I had to shed the baggage of my old ways. Even if I wasn’t attending Canterlot High anymore, I had to at least try to be better, if only because I owed it to Celestia.

“Gilda, pay the kid back for his stupid sandwich,” I said, trying to hide my uncertainty with a firm tone. This felt like it was going to be a huge mistake, but I stuck with it. “Secondly, I’m shutting down my business, effective immediately.”

I got Gilda’s attention, there was no doubt about that. She gave an incredulous gaze with an anger simmering under the surface, the kind of stare one might give upon witnessing a dog actually eating their homework. On the bright side, she did lose interest in the sandwich. My hands began to tighten around my coffee cup as her gaze began to burn a hole through my face. I was beginning to understand why the other student was so frightened of her, but I knew I couldn’t show any hesitation if I were to succeed.

“What do you mean you’re shutting down?” she asked. She was throwing me a lifeline just in case I got cold feet so I could backpedal, or at least make some kind of concession just for her.

“I’m quitting. I’m sorry, but I can’t do this business anymore—personal reasons.”

Not the answer Gilda wanted, obviously, and one could measure her growing displeasure by how far her fingertips had dug into the chair’s armrests.

“But you’ll finish our deal first, right?” The way she sneered at the end made it sound less like a confirmation and more like an ultimatum.

“I’ll send you a full refund, and email you all of the work and notes I’ve already done at no cost,” I explained. I may have been pulling the rug out from under her unexpectedly, but there was no reason I couldn’t throw a few pillows in to help soften the blow. “Your essay’s not due until next week. If you use the work I’ve already done and work hard for the next few days, you can have it finished easy before next Monday.”

Unfortunately for me, Gilda was more concerned with principles than end results. Let it be an important life lesson: never stand between a selfish jerk and their goals, at least not without an escape route. Any pretense of civility went out the window as Gilda leapt from her seat and approached mine. We were in a coffee shop, I rationalized, there was no way that Gilda was going to risk an open confrontation in front of so many people. That smug certainty lasted right up to the point where Gilda hoisted me straight out of the seat and I could feel nothing but air beneath my feet.

“Who do you think you are? You don’t get to back out just because you grew a stupid conscience!” Gilda shouted, garnering the attention of everybody in a quarter-block radius. “We had a deal, and you’re going to finish that assignment!”

“Or what? You’ll rough me up?”

Not the smartest thing to say, and a lesson that I learned quickly as gravity was a harsh tutor. I barely had time to let out a distressed yelp before being hurtled into the nearby table, knocking it over on my way to the ground. As I laid there with a half-eaten ham sandwich sitting on my face, lamenting the growing familiarity between floors and my butt, I realized that my old life was not going to give me up without a fight. Whether it was by luck or fate, turning my life around meant an uphill struggle. If I was going to prove to anyone that I was a better person, then I had let go of destructive emotions and take the moral high ground. I got back to my feet, calmly and in silence, and swept the mess from my coat.

“You present a persuasive argument, Gilda,” I said once tidied. “Please consider this rebuttal.”

Then I decked her with a right hook.

*******************

In retrospect, picking a fight with a person who had a solid twenty pounds of muscle over you was not one of the smartest decisions I had made. Although par for the course as far as the day went, I should have known better. I didn’t feel any guilt over my reaction, but that might have been due to the fact that all I could feel were dull, throbbing aches. Repeated blows to the face did help provide some clarity and perspective on my situation—that or I had a concussion. Even when I knew what the morally right choice to make was, I still succumbed to more primal instincts. I began to think that Luna was right about me, and my desire to change was just a fantasy.

Lucky for me and my jawbone, my scuffle with Gilda didn’t last too long and someone intervened to break up the fight. Unfortunately, that man happened to be a police officer who got flagged down by the coffee house staff. While there was a moment of satisfaction when I watched Gilda getting hand-cuffed while doubled-over against the nearby countertop, it was less fun when I went through the same treatment, albeit with less hassle as I did not struggle nearly as much as Gilda did.

That was the end of my good fortune, as far as I could tell. Once her initial resistance had ended and the adrenaline wore off, Gilda remained rather stoic during the entire ride to the police station. I suspected that this was not the first time that she had been in the back of a police car, a suspicion that was confirmed when I saw how fast things degraded once at the police station.

Though we were separated, I could see Gilda at the far side of the building in a separate, glass-walled office. Within ten minutes of her arrival, she was on the phone, and not thirty minutes after that, a trio of very well-dressed people were ushered into the office. If I had money to bet, it was parents and a family lawyer kept on speed-dial. Gilda must have spent the ride over crafting a plausible story to explain why an entire coffee shop was angry with us. There was a bus coming in and she was making sure that I was firmly planted between her and it. All I did during the car ride over was brood over my own idiocy.

Unlike Gilda, who sang like a canary, I opted to exercise my right to remain silent to its fullest extent. For at least two hours, I sat in absolute silence with one hand cuffed to the chair, and the other holding an ice pack to my face. That girl threw a mean haymaker.

Unsurprisingly, the police officer dealing with me grew tired of my silent treatment. He had started off sympathetic, and for what it’s worth, he made it sound like he actually cared about what happened to me, but as the hours dragged by, the frustration took over.

“Look lady, I don’t know what’s going on between you and the other girl, but you’re not doing yourself any favors by not saying anything,” the officer reminded me for the tenth time that hour. “You know what your friend has been telling us? She says you were trying to extort money from her, and that you threatened her first.”

Gilda could’ve said that I was the reincarnation of Nightmare Moon for all I cared. Whatever lie she made up was going to stick, and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it. She had money, prestige, fancy lawyers, and a family that would move mountains to protect her. What did I have in my arsenal? Anybody who might have been willing to defend me were now the ones who wanted to be first in line to throw me in jail. I had spent the entire day fighting, against myself and fate, and it appeared that I was destined to be just another screw-up to be tossed away and forgotten about.

With free room and board, even jail sounded like it was more than I deserved. Princess Luna didn’t do much more than me, and she got a thousand years on the moon. She didn’t even have basic cable or a library to pass the time.

“You realize that her parents want battery charges filed against you,” the officer continued, leaning back in his seat with a weary look on his face. “Whole coffee shop says she picked you up first, but if you can’t corroborate the witness statements, it’s not going to look good for you.”

He paused and waited, once again, for an answer, but I just shifted my gaze from the nearby window to his face and back again to the window. When he realized that I wasn’t going to answer, as usual, he let out another groan. After a few more repetitions, he eventually got fed up and decided to get some coffee. Finally I had some peace and quiet. I almost felt bad for the officer that had been dealing with me, because here I was, being difficult and wasting his time. He probably could be at home with his family, and instead he was pulling overtime because a girl with mayonnaise smeared in her hair was working on her mime routine.

The sun was beginning to set, which meant I had been sitting handcuffed to a chair for close to three hours now, not that the passage of time meant much to me any more. There was little for me to look forward to other than a night in a cold cell, hoping that the person in the other bunk wasn’t some kind of sociopath who insisted that I put lotion in the basket. My train of thought over my potential future in juvenile hall got derailed when I heard an odd clicking sound coming from right next to me.

“Alright, you’re free to go, missy,” said the officer as he took his handcuffs back.

“I’m what?” I replied without thinking.

“Oh, so now you talk,” the officer muttered with a roll of his eyes. “The other party has decided not to press charges, and they’ve agreed to pay for damages to the coffee shop.”

That was a rather sudden and fortuitous change of luck, which given how my luck has been treating me as of late, made me suspicious as to the reasons. A rich, spoiled brat and their high-priced lawyer do not just up and surrender when met with no resistance. While I had no desire to question the machinations of fate, I remained puzzled as to whom I owed my freedom to. My curiosity didn’t have to wait very long before realizing that luck had nothing to do with what just happened. The answer waited for me outside, leaning against the hood of a white sedan.

“Luna?” I muttered under my breath upon leaving the station. While the vice principal was not the white knight that I would have preferred, I wasn’t ready to complain or march back inside.

Though she didn’t look thrilled to see me, she still managed a polite ‘hello’ once we were face-to-face. She then motioned for me to get into the back of the car, to which I heeded without a word, and then got behind the wheel.

As I had figured Luna to be among those in favor of my permanent removal from society, I was hesitant to speak up. The icy chill in the air hinted to the fact that Luna had not rescued me out of the kindness of her heart. Her only acknowledgment of my continued presence was the occasional glance in the rear view mirror, as if to ensure that I didn’t try to bail when we reached a stop light.

However, my curiosity began to erode my better judgment. What had been a nagging thought was now bellowing into my ear like a child throwing a tantrum. Rather than telling my brain to go sit in a corner, though, I gave into its demand. I would make for a horrible parent.

“How’d you do it?” I finally blurted out.

“Excuse me?” Luna asked, eyes glancing to the mirror to meet my gaze. “How did I do what?”

“You know what I mean! How’d you get them to let me go?”

“Oh, that,” Luna replied with a playful smirk. “The police notified Celestia when they couldn’t find anybody else to call and explained the situation to her. When she was looking through your online business, she saw some of the documents were for a client by the name of Gilda. Figuring that this was part of the reason why you got into a fight with that girl, I spoke with Gilda and her parents. I explained to them the extent of your business relationship, and while Gilda might not be our student, Celestia is a long-time acquaintance with the headmaster for Crystal Heart Academy. In exchange for the headmaster not receiving an email documenting the entirety of your business dealings with Gilda, they’ve agreed to let the issue drop.”

I didn’t know why it took so long for me to realize the full extent of her explanation. Perhaps it was a late effect from a concussion, but it was more likely that I just couldn’t imagine Luna doing what she just said she did, and this was coming from a girl who imagined herself being able to conquer Equestria with an army of mind-controlled teenagers.

“You blackmailed them?” I eventually stammered out once the engine in my head puttered back to life.

“I prefer to think of it as giving them new perspective on the priorities in their lives,” Luna explained with no hint of amusement.

I had to admit, the revelation had painted Luna in a different light, one that shattered most of my old preconceptions of her. My knowledge of her only came from her operating in the capacity of a vice principal, but in the real world it was clear that she was just as willful as her sister. It made her both awe-inspiring and terrifying, and I began to wonder if I might have been safer back at the police station.

With my curiosity sated, I sunk back into my seat, let out a tired sigh, and just waited in silence for the car ride to be over. While my immediate problem was over, that didn’t change the fact that the rest of my life was neck-deep in uncertainty. Just to add to the growing pile, it didn’t take long for me to realize that we were not driving in a direction that I was familiar with. As school had ended hours ago, the most logical place for us to go was back to my home, but we were definitely not heading in the correct direction for that.

“Where are we going?” I asked once confusion began to turn into worry. Before today, I would’ve presumed Luna to be a person I could feel safe around, but now I half-expected to be dumped in front of a bus station and told never to be seen in town again if I valued my knee caps.

“Dinner,” Luna answered, as though the answer should have been obvious. “I’m hungry, and it’s two-for-one fajita night.”

In retrospect, it should have been obvious because we happened to be pulling into a restaurant parking lot at that very moment. It was some bar and grill restaurant—the kind with big screen televisions and far too much sports memorabilia, and was always packed when there was a game on. Given that it was a Monday night in the fall season, the place was quite crowded with patrons worshipping their favourite sports team. How anybody could be so obsessed with watching the achievement of others was beyond me.

Though wary of the idea of spending any more time than necessary around Luna, self-preservation lost out to sheer hunger. I hadn’t eaten since lunch, which, by that point in time, was over six hours ago. Fajitas sounded nice, and I would have been a fool to turn down the offer of free food. I did suspect, rightly, as I was soon to discover, that there was more to this dinner than just copious amounts of cheese and refried beans.

“Sunset Shimmer! Over here!” a voice greeted me upon entering the restaurant. I recognized it almost instantly, and would’ve turned and left had Luna not strategically positioned herself between me and the door.

It was Pinkie Pie, and she was waving me down from a table across the room. I began to wonder if I could go back and convince Gilda to press those criminal charges again. Those thoughts didn’t last long, though, as Luna nudged me forward. Pinkie Pie wasn’t the only person eagerly awaiting my arrival as Applejack, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Celestia were all at the table too.

“Um, hello everyone,” I greeted with a nervous wave. “What are you girls all doing here?”

“We’re on a mission from Celestia!” Pinkie Pie answered. Ask a stupid question; get a stupid answer.

“Why don’t ya just have a seat there, Sunset Shimmer,” Applejack spoke up, pushing out the seat next to her.

“When I told your friends about your sudden departure, they were very worried, and they all asked if there was any way they could help,” Celestia explained as I took my seat. “I thought a chance for all of us to sit down and talk would be of great help.”

“No offense, but why are you doing this?” I replied. “I mean, I know that Twilight Sparkle asked you girls to ‘look after’ me, but I’m not going to force you to do something you don’t want to. I think I’ve done enough of that already.” As surprising as it was to see so many people gathered at one table just for my sake, it was hard for me to shake the sense of skepticism that they really wanted to be here. I would not have blamed any of them for wanting to be somewhere else.

“Because it is the right thing to do,” Rarity explained.

“Maybe right for me, but what about the rest of you?” I countered. “Twilight isn’t here, and she didn’t know half of the things that I’ve done. How many of you can honestly say that, even if Twilight Sparkle hadn’t asked, you would still be sitting at this table right now?”

The fact that none of them answered right away, even going so far as to awkwardly avert their gaze for a second, gave me the confirmation I needed. Sometimes being right wasn’t all that satisfying. Friendship was a powerful force, after all, but without it, you had five young girls being asked to associate themselves with the person they had nothing but disdain for a week ago.

“Listen, I understand that you can’t be expected to like me just because one of your friends asked you to,” I continued since the silence was becoming too tense. “Twilight is your friend, and I’m a bit envious that your friendship is so strong that you’re willing to do something that you’d never consider in a million years. This is my life, too, and I don’t want your pity. Besides, how could I ever expect any of you to ever forgive me?”

Another awkward silence. I was getting good at summoning those. I suspected they were all trying to figure out how to best respond without coming off as disingenuous or contrived. The fact that they respected my feelings enough to not attempt cheap platitudes was reassuring, but it wasn’t enough to change how I felt. How was I expected to look at them with friendship if all I could feel was guilt?

Suddenly, the silence got broken by the last person I expected to speak up, and not just because of how little she talked.

“I forgive you,” Fluttershy quietly proclaimed.

Now it was my turn to stare in abject silence like an idiot. If anyone else had responded as promptly as she had, I would’ve been hesitant to believe them. Fluttershy might hide from the truth from time to time, but that was always out of fear or anxiety. The day that Fluttershy can hide her fear is the day that everyone else should be afraid.

There was no fear in Fluttershy’s voice. She genuinely meant it, and that simple fact alone hit harder than argument any of the others could have made.

“But… you?” I stammered in a daze of confusion. “I treated you the worst out of everyone; I walked all over you. I even spray-painted ‘doormat’ across your locker!”

“That was you?” she replied.

“Of course it was me! Who else would do something like that?” It took a few more moments for me to overcome the mental shock and calm down, after which I continued. “I yelled at you, and shoved you around. I ridiculed you in front of others and let your animals loose in the hallways. How can you just take all of that and not look at me like I’m the worst person in the city?”

“I don’t think you’re the worst person in the city,” she explained to me. “You’ve made some bad decisions, but that doesn’t make you a bad person. And you’re certainly not as bad as the person who shaved Angel that one time.”

“That was me.”

“Oh,” Fluttershy replied as a faint haze of embarrassment swept across her face. She managed to recover in good time, though. “Okay, well… I forgive you for that as well. You might want to apologize to Angel later.”

I was still having trouble coping with this news. “You… you really forgive me? Just like that?” I asked, to which she nodded in response.

Could forgiveness really be that simple? I had myself convinced that forgiveness had to be this difficult and arduous task, often requiring great sacrifice or trials to prove one’s intent. I had mentally prepared myself for a number of outcomes ranging from acts of penance to being chased out of the restaurant by pitchforks. Somehow in all my pessimism, though, I never considered that the person I had treated the worst would be willing to just smile and say those three little words—I forgive you. If the person who had the most reason in the world to never want to associate with me again was willing to give me a second chance, then maybe there was some hope after all. I knew the rest of the school would never be as forgiving as Fluttershy had been, but it was a foot in the door.

“Are you okay, Sunset?” Applejack suddenly asked, snapping me out of my stunned trance.

“What? I-I’m fine,” I insisted. It wasn’t until I blinked that I felt a tear roll down my cheek. Realizing what was happening, I quickly turned away, insisting, “I just… I just got something in my eye, that’s all.”

None of them believed me, even going so far as to give a quiet chuckle under their breaths. It wasn’t the malicious sort of laughter; more from amusement at seeing someone like me expressing genuine emotion for a change. I probably looked like a fool, stumbling around friendship and forgiveness like a child taking their first steps, but I could see that they weren’t holding it against me. And once Fluttershy had chimed in with her reassurance, the others followed suit with their own pledges of support and forgiveness.

“We ain’t expecting ya to change overnight, Sunset,” Applejack reassured me, “but all of us are gonna stick with ya. And if anybody at school wants to start giving you grief, then they’ll have to go through me first!”

“Not that you’ll have to worry about that with me around,” Rainbow Dash insisted, rising from her seat in order to draw everyone’s attention. “Once the school sees us hanging out together, they’ll realize that you’re just as awesome as I am. Well, maybe not as awesome, but you know what I mean.”

Rainbow Dash’s offer reminded me of the reasons why I began my association with Flash Sentry years ago. I suspected it would not be so simple this time around, and my toxic reputation would probably do more harm to Rainbow Dash than benefit me. Despite my misgivings, I refrained from voicing any concerns, lest I dampen her enthusiasm or risk offending her. They knew friendship better than I did, and as hard as it was for me to do, I had to place my trust in them.

“Now who wants fajitas?” Pinkie interjected with a sudden outburst.

And yes, I even had to place my trust in the pink one.

*******************

It had been a long time since I had fajitas, not since my days with Flash Sentry. Aside from him, I rarely had anyone or any need to eat at a restaurant. But it was… nice. It was hard to describe how I felt during the evening and ‘nice’ seemed insufficient as a descriptor. I had spent three years knowing nothing but deception, contempt, and arrogance. For a couple of brief hours, though, I forgot about all of it. Between Pinkie Pie’s sudden outburst into song, Rarity freaking out about spilling salsa on her wardrobe, and Luna sneaking in a couple of margaritas when Celestia went to the restroom, I realized just how out of my depth I was. Even during dinner, I guarded every action, and carefully mulled my words.

I wasn’t sure if I could ever match their openness, their honesty, or enthusiasm, but I had to try.

After dinner, my new friends, though at the time I was still hesitant to refer to them as such, headed on their way home while Celestia offered to take me home in exchange for help putting the now inebriated Luna into the backseat of the car.

“We don’t have to go back home now,” Luna whined as Celestia and I dragged the vice principal along. “The night can last forever!”

“It’s still a school night, sister, and you’ve already used enough sick days this quarter,” Celestia replied, although her words fell upon deaf ears.

“Well I’ve got the keys,” Luna taunted as she dangled the keys in one hand. “And I say we’re not going anywhere.”

Celestia tried to grab for the keys, but even in her drunk state, Luna’s reflexes proved quick enough to keep them just out of reach. Unfortunately, while quick, Luna lacked foresight and keeping the keys out of Celestia’s reach simply put them into mine.

“Yoink!” I said as I plucked the keys away.

“Hey! You can’t drive; you’re still too young!” Luna protested, switching her attention to me.

Thankfully, as Celestia and I were sober, it was far easier for us to coordinate in order to keep a hold of the keys. I lobbed the keys up high to the principal, and we were finally able to start our journey home. After a bit of protesting and some shoving, we eventually got Luna into the back. It was nothing a bit of metaphorical and literal arm-twisting from Celestia couldn’t fix. And lucky for us, Luna apparently decided that the back seat would be the perfect substitute for a bed, and was sound asleep before the engine even started.

This, however, left me in the precarious position of sitting alongside Celestia in a car that was all but silent, save for the murmurs of a drunken vice principal. I felt like I was sharing a boat with a tiger, and my anxiety was being broadcasted by my wary sideways glances to the driver. It would’ve made my life easier if Celestia just said whatever it is she had on her mind, but she remained steadfast in her silence. Perhaps she was trying to force me to speak first, which meant victory went to whoever could handle the awkward silence better.

And unfortunately for me, the experience and patience of a school administrator far outweighed anything I could bring to the table.

“Why did you come back for me?” I asked at long last. “You could’ve left me at the police station. I’d be gone from the school, and you and Luna wouldn’t have to worry about me causing any more disruptions.” Life at the school would have been much easier for the two of them had they left me behind. Bringing me in just guaranteed more grief, stress, and work for everyone involved. And like Luna said, somebody was bound to get hurt eventually. Princess Celestia cut me loose when it became clear I was a lost cause, so why was this Celestia so much more persistent?

At first Celestia said nothing, simply keeping her gaze on the road ahead as we drove. It wasn’t until we reached a red light that she looked to me and said, “You remind me of somebody I knew years ago. They had many blessings in their life, much to be proud of, but they became fixated on the few things they didn’t have. If I had paid attention and acted sooner, things might have gone better, but I was too caught up in my own business to notice.” A sombre expression fell across her face for a brief instant before she checked the rear view mirror and made a minor adjustment. “You don’t need to suffer alone, Sunset; nobody should.”

The closest thing to a friend I had ever had in life was Princess Celestia, and even that was being generous with the concept of ‘friendship.’ She had been my mentor for years, but we never drew that close. It wasn’t for a lack of trying on the Princess’ part, of course, but rather my pig-headed refusal to do anything other than advance my own potential. She tried to give me everything, but I only ever wanted more. In hindsight, the one thing I really could’ve used back then was a swift kick to the head.

“So what happens to me now? I just go back to school and be normal?” I asked.

“You’ll go back, but I don’t think you could ever be happy just being normal,” Celestia replied with a smirk. “I doubt you could be normal even if you tried. You are an exceptional young woman, Sunset Shimmer, and I believe there are great things in store for you. All I think you need is the proper guidance and support from friends.”

“I remember getting a very similar speech a long time ago. Didn’t pay much attention to it then,” I remarked, referring to one of Princess Celestia’s many lectures on friendship and relationships. “Listen, whatever happens, and I’m certain I’m going to have problems every now and then, just please don’t forget that I am really grateful for what you’ve done, even if I start saying otherwise.”

Celestia smiled, more warmly than before, and nodded. “I’m glad to hear that.”

“You heard nothing!” Luna shouted from the back seat. “And without my attorney present, you can’t prove otherwise!” She then sat up and leaned forward so that she was just behind Celestia. “Oh! Did Celestia ever tell you about the time that she and headmaster—”

“Luna, you should put your seatbelt on,” Celestia interrupted.

“Why’s that?”

Luna’s inquiry was answered with a sudden, sharp left turn that threw the younger sibling across the back seat, slamming into the other door with a hefty thump and a few slurred profanities.

Afterwards, Celestia calmly resumed a more leisurely drive and replied, “No reason,”

“That wasn’t the kind of thing I’d expect from a principal,” I commented. I checked behind me to see how Luna was doing, only to find that she had already fallen back asleep.

“You must be an only child,” Celestia deduced from my confusion. She said nothing more on the subject, but I realized that there was a lot more to Celestia and Luna than just being school administrators. “Now I must warn you in advance, there are going to be some ground rules from here on. First off, I think it’s for the best if you avoid future association with Snips or Snails.”

“Gladly,” I replied. Those two were probably enthused to hear that they wouldn’t have to be dealing with me anymore either.

“Second, no more selling answers or essays. If you need money, the school has a tutoring program that you can sign up for.”

“Oh god, who’d want me to try and teach them?” A disconcerting thought, to say the least, but hopefully one I could postpone for the time being. “But there’s no way I could keep living in my apartment with that small of an income.”

“Which brings us to my last point,” Celestia said, with fortuitous timing as she brought the car to a halt.

When I looked out the window, however, I noticed immediately we were not where I had presumed to be our destination. “This isn’t where I live,” I stated. Rather than an old apartment building of questionable sanitation, we were parked in front of an eloquent, contemporary-styled home. I was greeted to the sight of pristine wood siding and ceiling-high glass panes instead of old bricks and graffiti-covered concrete; a vibrant front yard as green as the gardens at Canterlot Castle; and just visible beyond the wood-paneled fencing was an in-ground pool in the backyard.

“It’s where I live,” Celestia answered.

“You can afford that on a principal’s salary?” I exclaimed.

“I helped!” Luna shouted from the back seat.

“Why are we here?” I asked with growing suspicion.

“Sunset, I’ve done a lot of thinking about what I can do as a principal to help you succeed in life,” Celestia began to explain, “but when I visited your apartment, I saw that a lot of the things that I could help you with are already taken care of. You are smart, driven, and you accomplish almost anything you set your mind to. And you’ve done that all on your own already. What you’re lacking, what I think you’ve been lacking for a while now, is guidance. Somebody who has been through life and can share with you the collected wisdom from those years of experience.”

“You mean I need parental supervision,” I replied, folding my arms across my chest. “Contrary to what some students might say, I do have a mother. I’ve done fine on my own—I don’t need another one.”

“Do you call this ‘fine’?” Celestia asked, gesturing to our surroundings. “Look at what your life has become.”

“I’m not a child,” I snapped back.

“Yes, you are,” Celestia answered. “But you’ve been in such a rush to grow beyond your station, you’ve never taken the time to learn the things a child normally does. If you want to learn how to become successful in adulthood, you have to learn how to act like a child first.”

“Tiiaaaa! If she’s living with us, she’s not allowed in my room!”

Celestia groaned and sighed. “Otherwise, you just wind up never growing up.”

To be honest, the idea of submitting to parental guidance, in itself, wasn’t an abhorrent idea; what worried me was living under another Celestia. But if I was willing to give even someone like Pinkie Pie the benefit of the doubt and defer to their wisdom, then what reason did I have to turn away from Celestia. Besides, it wasn’t as though I would have much success living on my own now that my main source of income was gone. Learning about friendship would be difficult if I was struggling just for my next meal. Were it anyone else, I would’ve taken the offer without hesitation.

But Celestia…

She may not have been the one I wronged, but that didn’t stop the memories from shoehorning their way into the forefront of my mind. I could’ve used a kick to the head on that night as well; it would’ve saved me from wasting so much time grappling with my own guilt.

“Guess I don’t have much option, now do I?” I replied with some reluctance. “Is there at least a spare bedroom?”

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